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[STEAM][PRESS]World of Warcraft: The War Within Game Director Answers All Our Burning Questions


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Blizzard has just given the wider public its first proper look at
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, the next expansion to World of Warcraft coming later this year and the start of its three-part, MCU-like Worldsoul Saga.

Over the last few days, I've
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featuring its first zone and some early questlines, and I got the chance to sit down with game director Ion Hazzikostas to talk about what I experienced. We started off our conversation by talking about the expansion's VERY spoilery, very dramatic opening, so if you don't mind spoilers and want to hear more,
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For the rest of the interview, which is free of story spoilers, here's a transcript of my conversation with Hazzikotas that's been lightly edited for clarity:

Let's start with Hero Talents. What work is being done to make sure Hero Talents feel really impactful? I feel like there's a sense that there are a lot of tacked-on, passive buffs as opposed to real, active gameplay changes, and I was admittedly a little underwhelmed by what I played around with.

Hazzikostas: The way we approached the Hero Talent Trees, each one begins with what we call internally a keystone talent. Something that is often an active ability or something that is transforming one of your abilities or just a signature thing that represents the flavor of that entire Hero Talent Tree that you're opting into. Then there's also a capstone at the very end as you hit 80 that will either further augment it or flesh out your capabilities. But along the way, yeah, there are definitely a number of passive talents, but that's not really different than talent trees in general. I think that if we set out to add 10 active or gameplay-changing nuanced things for everyone, that would be pretty overwhelming in aggregate. So our goal here is just focused flavor, fantasy, power, some new utility or throughput depending on what kind of spec you are.

At the end of the day, once you have them fully unlocked at max level, you'll be able to have these as part of your overall loadout. So do I want to go with this spec, or that spec to complement my ***** build or my frost build or whatever else?

So, they're not intended to be really class-shattering abilities?

Hazzikostas: They're not, honestly. They're class augmenting. They are nudging your fantasy and your class's fantasy in one direction or another. But at the end of the day, part of the challenge is managing complexity within all of this space. We already have dozens of talent nodes. Many people prefer to use the default or starter builds that we offer rather than microing on it, but with 39 specializations across 13 classes, we're not looking to massively add more combinatorics to that. At the same time, there's some really cool flavorful visuals and mechanics that are, in some cases, letting players realize iconic class fantasy that goes back to Warcraft 3 in some cases, or just exploring new boundaries if you want. If you really, really, really like randomness and RNG and leaning into fate, well, there's an Outlaw Rogue option for you.

I know there were some people looking at things being done in Season of Discovery and getting excited at the notion of specs getting a little weird. I play shaman, so my guild's been saying, 'Shaman tanks' or 'Totemic shaman could be a support class!' but it sounds like that's a little outside the scope of what you're doing here.

Hazzikostas: There's a couple of pieces there. We want to keep exploring those ideas, and weirdly, which is funny thinking about how Classic started five years ago with #nochanges, we need to be more ************* than the Classic team can be in some ways, both because Season of Discovery, it is a time limited season. They don't need to worry about, well, how are these new specs going to continue to scale and progress for years and years to come? But also, frankly, because they're building upon a much simpler foundation. You can take a level 40, level 50 classic vanilla-era class that may really only have a handful of abilities in their rotation, if that, and much more easily layer in more things, than you can into a world today where most specializations don't have spare GCDs and have very full action bars. We want to offer something that is cool, that shakes things up, but if it comes at the expense of the gameplay remaining approachable and being something people can wrap their heads around actually doing day in day out in Azeroth, then we need to pull back.

Last expansion, we got the new and improved talent tree, and this expansion, we get additive talent tree. Is this the route you see yourselves taking going forward? Just tweaking the talent tree in different ways, expansion after expansion?

Hazzikostas: Yeah, it's likely that in Midnight as level cap goes up again, we'll probably add talent points to some or potentially all of the existing trees spread across class, spec and hero. We don't want to keep adding all new trees and new systems every time, but we are trying to manage that complexity growth. Being mindful of the lessons from the last time we had an open-ended talent tree 15 years ago where just the alternative to hero talents might have been something like just add 10 points, add two new rows to the class and spec trees. And on the one hand, that might seem simpler in a sense, but it actually would've been an incredible amount of extra combinatoric complexity to layer onto the system, and we know where that path leads. It led us to have to take a giant step back and prune out half the trees. We want to manage that more carefully this time.

How big is The War Within map compared to Dragonflight?

Hazzikostas: Numerically, I can't say off the top of my head. It has a different feel to it certainly.


Hazzikostas: Yeah, exactly. Exactly. So there are a couple of zones that definitely are a bit smaller in terms of footprint. We have comparable amounts of questing content overall, but something like Azure Span that what we knew we set out to create just a vast outdoor expanse, that doesn't translate as readily to a subterranean setting.

That said, when making zones like Hallowfall, our third zone, one of our goals was to make it so that when you're walking around that zone, honestly, unless you're looking up, you wouldn't even know that you're underground necessarily. The zone's big enough that a key part of the Arathor culture is using airships to get around because that's actual... Underground airships. Why not? We want to make sure that it feels varied, and while an area like Ringing Deeps, for example, may double down more on that traditional subterranean fantasy, one of our huge goals from the outset was to make sure that this didn't feel like a claustrophobic expansion. You didn't feel like you were just trapped somewhere the whole time, and so there's vast wide open spaces. And of course, with dragon riding now morphing into dynamic flying and being available everywhere, we can continue to build zones at a scale that assumes that rapid rate of traversal.

We don't want to keep adding all new trees and new systems every time, but we are trying to manage that complexity growth. How do you feel that's going so far? This is a personal thing, but playing around in the alpha, I suddenly missed not being able to fly. Which is the thing you always said! You want people to explore the zone on foot! Now I'm like ah, the whimsical days of running around on a ground mount and seeing everything!

Hazzikostas: I can take that one back to the community and be like, "We were going to give everyone flying, but Rebekah made this really persuasive point that it just feels more immersive without it," and you'll have plenty of stuff to write about.

Oh ****.

Hazzikostas: No, in my heart of hearts, I agree that there is something to feeling small against the backdrop of this vast new world to explore and then being able to eventually earn the ability, once you've explored it, to get from point A to point B quickly. This is one of those cases where the genie's out of the bottle as our long, the decade plus long, saga at this point of trying to manage flying, the availability of flying has shown.

At the end of the day, it's an expectation across the board now, and we just embraced it and we are building our world to be that from the start. And while, yes, you can fly around and see all of it the moment you get there if you want to, the questing and the narrative are still going to lead you through key areas of interest and you'll come to know the people and the antagonists and your new allies through that lens regardless of how you're getting around from quest to quest.

With dynamic flying becoming the standard, is there going to be a move away from having ground mounts as rewards from big content?

Hazzikostas: No.


Hazzikostas: Yeah, it's no more so than has been the case in a world of flying, right? Before Dragonflight at all, certainly flying around at 310 speed was better than being on the ground and you would do it whenever you could. If we have prestige mounts, generally, we'll try to make them ones that can fly. And of course, they'll be able to do so dynamically now if we do. But there are still key PvP mounts, dungeon mounts and other things that just... We make cool terrestrial creatures that people want to put a saddle on and ride around sometimes.

I think some people were bummed about the Mythic+ rewards being ground-based, because you can't show them off to people as often.

Hazzikostas: That's fair, and it's not something we're 100% locked into, that could change down the line. Some of it is. Often, you're using the mounts in the dungeons where we generally don't let you fly, and so being able to, at least, in the outdoor dungeons or mountable areas, use the mount that you earned from it feels like it makes sense, but that's not a rigid formula that we want to carry forward necessarily. It really has to do with what are the signature creatures of the new space that we're going to, and what feel like they would make good mounts and then out of that, what would be really weird to have fly versus what's natural to have fly.

Can Horde have a big bee mount, please?

Hazzikostas: We'll see, actually. Given the ***** bees that are prominent in the Isle of Dorn as part of the Earthen culture there, would not shock me to find a less faction restricted mount down the line. And of course, when it comes to flying mounts, lest we forget, everyone who goes into Delves is going to get this awesome fully customizable kittable flying mount that will work everywhere.

I wanted to ask about that too. It's the same customization system you used for dragons, which seems like it worked out pretty well. Is this a system you want to use going forward for more things beyond the little...helicopter? Airplane? Whatever we're calling it that we get in The War Within?

Hazzikostas: It could be a helicopter, it could be an airplane, depends on what parts you want to swap in and out and who knows what else you might get down the line. But yeah, it's definitely a system that we're happy with how it played out in Dragonflight. Where we can offer more customization, we want to do it. Needs to make some sense fantasy wise, but yeah, it's the sort of mechanized mount that you can swap in and out components on, felt like a natural fit for it. I can't guarantee there will always be a customizable mount every expansion or every tier, but where possible, where it makes sense, I think seems like a great fit.

I saw something, it's eight dungeons at launch, right? Four leveling, four max level, right?

Hazzikostas: Yeah.

Are you still happy with and planning to bring back the Mythic+ rotation that includes some old dungeons in that cycle?

Hazzikostas: Yeah, that's our plan. Season one will have four of the new War Within dungeons and then four throwbacks from past expansions. And we're looking to, in some cases, go a bit further back than we even did in Dragonflight. We have Grim Batol, a fan favorite from Cataclysm. And where needed, we're reworking some of the mechanics meaningfully to both fit alongside the other dungeons and be better suited for Mythic+.

But yeah, there was definitely trepidation at the start of Dragonflight on our end as well of, is it going to feel bad to hold back some of the new dungeons in the rotation initially? But the flip side of that, of being able to offer a fully new set of dungeons with each season, is such a large upside that it outweighs the bummer of having only four of the eight new dungeons at the start. Plus, something that we're really excited about with the new dungeon structure, with Mythic 0 moving up in effective difficulty and rewards that we're doing at the end of Dragonflight, experimenting with, going forward, all dungeon players should be able to experience this season rotation. Whereas before, it only really applied to Mythic+. Now, if you're doing these Mythic 0 dungeons, if you're queuing for Heroics even, you'll be doing the seasonal dungeon pool. And so for everyone, it should really freshen up the experience season over season.

We're going to have an 11.1, we're going to have an 11.2. We're going to have new outdoor spaces that you're going to and raids. Do you expect that later in the expansion you might add other new dungeons with major patches, as you have before?

Hazzikostas: Again, nothing specific to announce right now, but we love adding new dungeons, clearly. We know it's a great vehicle for storytelling and just for expanding the Mythic dungeon pool. Also, something we're really excited about in terms of how we use dungeons narratively now is the Follower Dungeon system that we introduced in 10.2.5 limited just to Dragonflight dungeons at the time, we're now extending to at least a few of our level-up dungeons in War Within, and eventually all of them. But that allows us for the level-up dungeons, for example, to integrate them into the story in a much more direct way.

As folks play through Isle of Dorn, part of the campaign chapters there will send you into the Rookery dungeon. Whereas before, we never would've done that because for a bunch of people it's like, well, if you only play solo, doing a dungeon may be not something you're comfortable doing. Now, just go in with bots and it is just an extension of your solo experience, more epic than ever. But as we look ahead to end game and otherwise, when we have really major lore impacting, story impacting moments like we saw with Dawn of the Infinite, we now have a vehicle to make those moments accessible to all players regardless of their play style. And then if you want to push progression dungeons as hard content, cool.

Can you say how many raids are planned for The War Within?

Hazzikostas: We don't have a specific number that we're committing to at this point. I think it's likely that by the end of the year, we've been in the habit of releasing these fun roadmaps. We'll probably lay one out for 2025. But we want to be flexible with how we tell the sorts of stories that make sense, and what locations we need to visit, what great enemies need to be defeated. I can say that we're pretty happy with season lengths and raid tiers that last around five months and want to subdivide our expansions into those chunks, and then as we've seen in the last couple of expansions, if we have a remainder of a few months at the end, then doing that season four remix-style approach makes sense there, but more details on post War Within patch content to follow. Right now, we're just super focused on getting the launch into players' hands.

I vaguely remember you all saying at some point that the three chapters of the Worldsoul Saga would move along at a little faster clip than expansions have before. Are you roughly expecting War Within to be roughly two-ish years the way Dragonflight was, will it go faster? What should people expect?

Hazzikostas: There are a lot of variables there. We are trying to, and really a huge focus of ours, and hopefully this shows, is delivering more than ever for our community, and ensuring that there aren't lulls or gaps in content, there's always stuff to do in WoW. And we want to strike a balance between that, and also moving our story forward at a reasonable pace so that you're not just getting bored waiting to see what happens next.

I can't say definitively, I think I said this at BlizzCon too. We're not looking to engage in expansion shrinkflation where we're just pivoting or trying to repackage what the offering is at a fundamental level. We're going to have an 11.1, we're going to have an 11.2. We're going to have new outdoor spaces that you're going to and raids. And beyond that, we're still figuring out all the details and the pacing that makes sense, but when you join War Within, yes, it's the first chapter of this big epic Worldsoul Saga, but it's also an awesome WoW expansion in its own right that needs to feel like a self-contained, satisfying expansion with a beginning, middle, and an end.

You briefly mentioned
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a second ago, and I'm curious: why do Mists of Pandaria specifically? Should people be looking at Mists of Pandaria lore-wise for things they may need to know for The War Within?

Hazzikostas: Yeah. I can say there are no major lore Easter eggs. There's no War Within driven thematic reason. Honestly, Mists is cool. Pandaria is a really fun sandbox, and it's great to invite people back to experience it in an all new way.

So we shouldn't be reading too much into either that or Season of Discovery for The War Within lore?

Hazzikostas: I hate discouraging wild theories, but no. In this, we're just focused on what would be fun places to revisit and explore.

I think the only thing we haven't deeply covered here is Delves. Can you walk me through how Delves work on a daily or weekly basis? I got to play a bit in alpha, and I ran them a couple times, but it felt like I was running the same maze over and over. Do they change daily, weekly?

Hazzikostas: So the level-up experience, particularly the first one that you go through as part of the campaign structure is static. We're not looking to randomize your experience meaningfully there. At end game, there will be a dozen Delves scattered around Khaz Algar, and different variants of each of them. There may be Delves that have bonuses on certain days or weeks. But when we made the variants of them, we were looking to do more than just differences in spawning. In some cases, it's like an entirely different story that's being told effectively. Maybe one time you're going in and the Earthen are locked in battle with invading Nerubians that have come into a Delve. Another time, the Nerubians aren't there at all, and you're dealing with a different threat. Another time, maybe half of the Delve is flooded and actually is underwater and has aquatic enemies in that, and you're swimming through parts of the Delve that you once walked through.

So the intent is like that level of variety. From a rewards' perspective, doing Delves will feed into a new row in the vault that represents the outdoor gameplay row. And we want Delves to really feel like an extension of the outdoor world. And you seamlessly enter them from the outdoor world, but also from a rewards' perspective, at the end of Delves, there are multiple chests of different sizes. Smaller ones, you can always just open, they're not locked, but the larger one require keys to open that you'll get from doing outdoor content, and so that's kind of the loop of the same way in the past you might have done world quests to complete an Emissary, let's say. Here, you'll be engaging in content in the outdoor world that will heighten your rewards when you go into a Delve along with just the separate cosmetic progression and achievements, all the other things that you're getting from just completing them and unlocking perks.

Are you expecting players will do all the delves every week? One delve a day?

Hazzikostas: We're mostly focused on a weekly wrapper here, a weekly cadence similar to dungeons, and that's the rhythm of the vault. There are likely to be a few Delves per week that are highlighted with extra bonus loot to point you at those. We're not locking the others, but again, the goal is a bit of week over week variety there. Certainly shouldn't feel like you're doing all the Delves every week to the point of exhaustion, but each week should feel a bit different from the last in terms of the Delves that you're being pointed to and the events that are active in that Delve.

Hazzikostas: We're not trying to create an experience where you're chain-running the same Delve three times, and it's a different experience each time. We want there to be some sense of, particularly when you get to higher difficulties and you're trying to beat it to get a reward or to get an achievement, there should be some sense of learning and mastery, not maybe more Torghast-style like, let's just hope I get a good roll this time and get a good run. That's not the intent.

So, what gives with the three-day early access situation for The War Within? I feel like I've seen criticisms of that, having to pay $40 extra to be there on launch day, a tax on ********* players who have to be there day-one for raid. Are you reconsidering that at all? Why are we doing this?

Hazzikostas: We're not reconsidering it at this point, certainly. We have sold epic editions with that expectation. That is a commitment we're going to meet. It is a bit of an experiment. We are looking to see how we can maximize the value of each of the different expansion tiers. It used to be that you needed to get the Heroic Edition to get a boost, for example, in Dragonflight. We actually now make a boost part of the baseline offering. We haven't raised the overall prices, but when we added more value to the baseline, we were looking for things that we can add to the higher tiers to keep them a compelling value proposition.

Now, we're definitely super mindful of fairness, competitive concerns, feels bad concerns around any form of early access. And the way we're trying to position this is with regard to your point about raiding concerns. Really, it's pulling in that before the first reset ******* that we already have established, which is to say until Tuesday in North America, when that first weekly reset happens, endgame weekly quests won't be available. Endgame mythic dungeons, rogue dungeons won't be available. Profession weekly cooldowns won't be available. Albeit we've already had that in place to make sure that people who stayed up all night on Monday and power leveled didn't have an unfair advantage, this just pulls that early ******* in further.

So if you're someone who maybe doesn't have as much time to play during the week, but you have a bit more time on weekends and you've always felt like, well, some of your guild mates are racing ahead and jumping into dungeons, and you're still pokily leveling your way along as you're hearing them performing dungeon groups, this is a chance for more people to get leveled up, get to that shared starting line on the Tuesday when the endgame content unlocks and be able to all do it together. Our goal in tuning all of this is to make sure that two, three weeks in, there should not be any perceptible difference between someone who had early access and someone who didn't in terms of what they're capable of, what their gear is, anything else.

Our interview with Hazzikostas came alongside our early alpha preview of The War Within, which you can
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Rebekah Valentine is a senior reporter for IGN. Got a story tip? Send it to [email protected].

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